European lawmakers on Tuesday voted overwhelmingly in favour of a robust anti-SLAPP directive, informally known as Daphne's Law, aimed at protecting journalists, human rights activists and artists from intimidatory cross-border lawsuits aimed at silencing them.
Almost 500 MEPS backed the draft directive. Just 33 voted against while 105 abstained.
European Parliament President Metsola said that this law was in memory of Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was targeted with 42 pending cases against her when she was cruelly assassinated in October 2017.
“With Daphne’s Law, we are protecting journalists, media freedom and democracy,” Metsola said after the vote.
The draft legislation will now be the negotiating position that the European Parliament will adopt during negotiations with the European Commission and the European Council before the text becomes law. Talks are expected to start on Wednesday.
The new directive is aimed at protecting those working on issues of public interest such as fundamental rights, the activities of public officials or corruption allegations.
The rules will apply in cross-border cases when the defendant, claimant and court are not based in the same country.
Rapporteur Tiemo Wölken told a media briefing in Strasbourg that the European Parliament had sent a strong message to the European Council (the EU heads of government) which had wanted a watered-down version of the proposed directive.
He explained how the draft directive foresees safeguards for victims of SLAPPs, including the possibility of asking for the early dismissal of lawsuits, in which case a claimant will have to prove that the case is not unfounded.
The claimant will also have to cover the full costs of the proceedings, including the defendant´s legal representation and face penalties, while the SLAPP victim could seek compensation, including for psychological or reputational harm.
To limit the practice of choosing the court most likely to side with the claimant, defamation cases would only be admissible in a defendant’s national court. Member states would not recognise SLAPP judgements of third countries against individuals and companies residing in their territory and should allow those targeted to be compensated in the national court.
With Daphne’s Law, we are protecting journalists, media freedom and democracy - Roberta Metsola
Metsola expressed her pride and satisfaction after the strong vote.
“I am proud of this parliament’s tenacity. Because were it not for the European Parliament, we would not even have a proposal for the SLAPP directive.”
As First Vice-President, Metsola had spearheaded parliament’s initiative for the EU-wide rules against Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs). She worked with Wölken before her appointment as parliament president.
She said that the ability for journalists to report freely on issues that are a matter of public interest was not just important, but essential, to the values that underpin the European Union, such as equality, democracy and the rule of law.
“In these cases, claimants use their wealth to deter scrutiny. They aim to financially and emotionally drain their targets, forcing journalists to self-censor and producing a chilling effect on the reporting of abuses. Essentially, their one and only goal is to silence.”
“Journalists should never be faced with a choice to either stop reporting the facts or to be faced with a costly and lengthy lawsuit in another country,” Metsola insisted.
According to Coalition against SLAPPs in Europe (CASE), the peak in the number of SLAPPs in Europe was achieved in 2020 with 114 cases.